I've learned in my life that there are some people who will say just about anything to a pregnant woman. When my wife Maria was pregnant, we would find that people would come up and ask all sorts of questions. People don't feel one bit nervous or awkward about coming up and grabbing hold of a pregnant lady's stomach and rubbing all over her stomach and saying all kinds of things to you. But the weirdest conversation that I ever had when we were expecting a child was a middle-aged man who walked up to us and said, "I understand that y'all are expecting a baby." This was when we were expecting Samuel, who's now four years old. And I said, "That's right. Yeah, we're expecting a baby, and he'll be born in June." And the man said, "Well when was he conceived?" I said, "I beg your pardon?" He said, "When was he conceived?" I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well, what was the date on which he was conceived?" And I said, "I have absolutely no idea." And he said, "Well, good. Because people who can tell you the exact day that their child was conceived just don't have much of a life." Turned around and walked off. I just kind of stood there and watched him go and turned to Maria and said, "Did this just happen here?"
There's a reason why that's an awkward question. It's the same reason that it's awkward, for those of you who are parents, as you start reading the Christmas story to your children and they say to you, "Well, what's a virgin?" Because we all know that the fact that we are born means that we are conceived. The fact that we are conceived means that we are the product of the union of two people. There is a path that goes back from us to two people who came together, and both of those people are the product of two people who came together, and those people are the product of two people who joined together in a bond. We are dependent upon this entire trail and path of couples throughout all of history. Even those of you who grew up without your father in the picture, there was a father. Even those of you who grew up without your mother in the house, there was a mother. We all are the result of that, except in this one case. The Scripture says that in the tiny little village in the Middle East, a place called Nazareth, that there was a young woman who was a virgin. She had never been with a man in a sexual way. In this little village, this woman that the Scripture tells us is named Mary was betrothed. It means that she was committed to marry this man named Joseph, but she had not yet married him. That something startling and amazing happened to her, as Luke tells us here, suddenly she received a visitation from an angelic being who comes and tells her something extraordinary. He says, "You are going to give birth to a child."
Declaration of war
When the angel shows up in Nazareth this is not the first time that this has been told. As a matter of fact, what happened with Mary, as she is listening to this angelic visitor, was prophesied a long time before in a Garden somewhere in an unknown location, in which there was another woman standing there with her husband after they had eaten of a fruit and rebelled against the God who created them. A word came not to them but to another angel, a rebel angel, a snake, the Scripture tells us, a dragon, Satan. When the word comes to this devil from God that says the day is coming when the offspring of the woman you "will strike at his heel but he will crush your head." It was an odd way for God to speak about this coming deliverer. He doesn't say a son of the man. He doesn't say the offspring of humanity. He says the offspring of the woman, the seed of the woman will bite you. What you and I need to understand this morning is that the virgin birth is not simply a sweet Christmas story. The virgin birth is not a comforting idea. The virgin birth is scary, because if we understand what is going on here, we will see that in the uterus of this little Nazarene virgin girl God is declaring war.
Luke tells us that an angel appears to Mary in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel is sent from God to this city of Galilee, and he speaks to a woman named Mary, who was a virgin. The angel says to Mary, "You're going to give birth to a king. You're going to give birth to a deliverer. You're going to give birth to one who is going redeem the universe from the curse that has come over it." Mary's question is entirely reasonable. Mary asks, "How is this to be since I have never known a man?" Mary is no idiot. Sometimes people will look at these passages of Scripture and they will say, "Well, I don't believe in the virgin birth, because we are contemporary, modern, scientific people and we know that virgins don't conceive and give birth to children." Here is a bit of news for you. Nobody ever had believed in virgin births. That's the reason why Mary is stunned. That's the reason why when she tells Joseph I'm pregnant, Joseph's response is not, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. His response is "I'm getting rid of you, because you've cheated on me." Everybody knows how babies are conceived and how babies come to be born. People didn't suddenly discover that in 1964. They knew it back here in this Nazarene village in Galilee, which is why it is so extraordinary and Mary says, "How in the world is this going to happen?" The angel says, "The Holy Spirit is going to overshadow you."
The wages of sin
Notice what God is doing when he delivers us our Lord Jesus without a man, without a human biological father. He is shattering human pride and human self-dependence. When God said to Eve back in the Garden of Eden, "Your offspring will crush the serpent's head" it's only a few verses later when the Scripture says, "And Adam knew Eve and she conceived and gave birth to a son, and Eve said, 'Now we have a man with the help of the Lord.'" But he died. You move through all of those genealogies of Scripture and you move through all of the bloodlines of every single one of your families, and there's a common theme—RIP. Every single person in your bloodline was a rebel against God. Every single person in my bloodline was a rebel against God. Every single one of the people in all of the bloodlines in all of human history have paid the wages of their sin, death.
I took my eight-year-old boys with me to a funeral one time. It was an open casket visitation. Elderly person. I knew they'd never been around that before. I said, "I want you to be quiet. I don't want you to say anything. I don't want you to ask any questions. You just come in there with me, and then we leave." They were stiff as boards and silent, never said a thing. We got back into the car and I said, "You saw that in there? One day if the Lord Jesus doesn't return in time, that's going to happen to your dad. I'm going to be in a box just like that." I said, "When you see me in that box what you can know is that I earned it, because I'm a sinner, and the wages of sin is death. The only hope that I have is the blood of Jesus Christ shed for me and that Jesus was raised from the dead for me because sin equals death."
Throughout all of the centuries of human history every single generation people couple up together and give birth to children, and then those children couple up together and give birth to children, and so it goes. But in all of those thousands of years there is never a single one who could ever stand up and defeat the snake who had taken control of the universe. And why? Because every single one of them could be accused. In every single one of them the serpent is able to look into their eyes and say, "No, you are like me. You share with me this sinful rebellion against God and you will share with me death and destruction and condemnation and curse." You're not him. You're not him. If God had left the human race alone we could never have reproduced ourselves out of the curse that we are in. We could have never brought forward for ourselves a deliverer. Instead, there has to be a new start. He says, "The Holy Spirit will overshadow you." Just as the Spirit hovers over the waters in the creation of the world, he says, "The Spirit will overshadow you, and you will give birth to a child who will be holy. He will be the Son of God." This is a new start for the entire human race. God is judging our own pride and dependence. We cannot do it on our own.
That's the reason why Luke, in this passage, says that what God is doing here in history is the same thing that he must do in each of our lives, if we are ever to be made right with God. We are born not according to the will of the flesh, not according to the will of a man, but according to the power and the mercy of God. A virgin birth is miraculous, yes, but a virgin birth is just as miraculous as the young man who came a few minutes ago and said to me, "I've decided to stop following in my own way and to start following after the Lord Jesus Christ, and I want to be obedient to him in baptism and into living out the life as a man of God." That's miraculous, too, because you cannot get there on your own. You must get there only through the power and the mercy of God. He says you will give birth, but it will not be with any man.
Jesus' presence is a judgment
Notice what he also says. He gives a word of scary judgment here when he says in verse 32, "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High." We read that passage and say, "Oh, ain't that sweet. The little angel is there saying he's going to be great." No, no, no. That's scary talk. He is going to be great, meaning he is going to be powerful. He is going to be able to rule, and he will be the Son of the Most High. He is saying to her exactly what the prophet Isaiah had seen centuries beforehand. She will give birth to this child, and he will be Emmanuel, God with us. You can crochet that all you want to. You can put that on a Christmas card all you want to. But God with us is not a sweet and comforting notion to sinners. When Eve and Adam rebelled against God and ate of that fruit, when the presence of God came into the Garden, what do they do? They don't want God with us. They want to hide from the presence of God. That's the judgment. They see the light, but they'd rather have the darkness, because their deeds are evil. You and I are just like that as well. We do not want God in our presence, left to ourselves. Instead, we want to be free. We want to be left alone. We want to carry on and to live our lives without the intervention of God. God is not simply leaving you the way that you are. God is coming to you in history. He will be with you in history. He is taking on flesh. There in the midst of you in history your God is with you and identifying with you in Jesus.
He takes on every stage of what it means to be human. The Son of the Most High is an embryo. The Son of the Most High is an infant with muscles too weak to be controlled. The Son of the Most High must be potty trained. The Son of the Most High must learn how to walk as he walks across the floor toward his parents. The Son of the Most High goes through every stage of human existence, so that he can save us from ourselves. And God with us, the meaning of Jesus being the Son of the Most High in your midst, what the angel is saying to you is that you can hide if you want to back there in the bushes, but the fact that God has come in the virgin born Jesus of Nazareth means that you will face him. You may not face him now, because you can come up with all kinds of ideas about God to tide yourself over. But you ultimately will come face-to-face with the Lord Jesus Christ, and his very presence is a judgment against all of us. Jesus stands to say I'm human, just like you. His very presence is a judgment.
Christ's birth is an act of war
Notice also it's not only a judgment. We also see here mercy. The angel appears in the city of Galilee to a woman. What had happened thousands of years before in that Garden isn't the end of the story. Notice what happened when the first woman was approached by that old rebel angel the snake. She's very calm. The Scripture says that the snake is subtle, the snake is crafty, and he simply comes to her and asks her a question. Eve is not scared. Of course not, because Satan doesn't want to scare you. Satan wants you comfortable. Satan wants you tranquil, because Satan is feeding you like a cow on the way toward the destruction pit, and he doesn't want anything to give you the least little bit of indication as to what is going on.
This angel comes from God and says to this woman, "Don't be afraid. Don't be scared." He speaks with her honestly. He doesn't hide anything from her. Unlike all of those previous generations that are cursed, he comes to her and says, "You are blessed. You have found favor in the sight of God." Unlike Eve, who wants to be wise by reaching out and grabbing that fruit and eating it on her own, this new woman, Mary, instead seeks wisdom the way that God has said to seek wisdom, by seeking the face of the Lord. She asks, "How shall these things be?" Instead of Eve who says, "We won't surely die," this woman in submission to her God says, "Let it be according to your word." Let it be. She surrenders to this, and she becomes here the vehicle through which God sends us his very presence, his very Son. The One who is both God and is also our brother is a human being. He says, "You will give birth, and the child will be called the Son of the Most God." That is scary.
When Mary finds out she's pregnant the satanic powers go into overdrive. They try to kill him. They try to tempt him. They try to drag him down. They try to destroy him. Ultimately he is led by his friends and countrymen toward an execution stake where he will suffer the entire curse of death and agony, but even in that, especially in that, he is turning back the snake's power, because he removes the guilt, he removes the condemnation.
There are some of you who believe that the way to deal with what you really know is true about yourself is to hide it and to try to fix it. There are things going on in your life that you don't want to be going on, and you try to hide those things until you can get those things managed and worked out. That will never bring you peace. That will only bring you death. The way that God works is to expose those things, because God is saying to you exactly what God said in the virgin birth to the entire human race—you cannot fix this. Your trying to fix this will only give you more and more of an illusion of your own power, and it will take you to the grave. Be found, instead, in Christ. Surrender. Give up and find the freedom that comes in this infant who will grow up to be crucified and raised from the dead.
There are some of you who need to be driven to the point of dependence. You need to be brought by the Spirit to the place that Mary was brought. "Let it be to me according to your word." There are others of you in this room who are believers. You're trusting in the Lord Jesus, but you don't see in the illusion of all of our Christmas lights and tinsel and glitter and blown up electronic wise men on people's front yards the fact that Christmas is violent. Christmas is war. Christmas means that all of the enemies of God, including those of us who were once enemies of God, have been put down by the power of a new man, who has no biological father but who knows how to say Abba.
Perhaps what all of us need this holiday season is to be reminded of that dependence, to be reminded of the warfare going on all around us, to cry out with gratitude to a God who fought our enemy for us in a surprising and unexpected and upside down kind of way. And say, all I want for Christmas is a crushed snake skull. That's the gospel.
Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.